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Includes Issues:Jonah Hex 37-42
Issue Dates:January – June 2009
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This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

The best of the Jonah Hex collections have a theme that unites them. It’s not a series that runs on sequential storytelling, but an ongoing investigation of the lead character and the make up of western storytelling.

The first trade of this run, Face Full of Violence, reintroduced Hex to the contemporary audience.

Guns of Vengeance did its title justice by dealing with that common theme of the western. In Luck Runs Out, the stories supported each other in reinforcing the torments of a man who only has his reputation to swear by.

Lead Poisoning, the seventh volume in the series written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, also seems to run to a single theme: Hex is a mean son of a bitch.

Unfortunately, it’s one we’re well aware of and just isn’t as satisfying as learning something new. So that makes for a fun, but not particularly enlightening collection.

I must admit a slight bias here. Of the various artists who have contributed to this latest ongoing, Jordi Bernet is not my favorite.  It’s not that he isn’t a talented illustrator, I just personally prefer a dirtier style Hex.

Bernet’s work brings a lot to be thankful for, but it just doesn’t always do it for me. In this collection, he illustrates 3 out of the 5 stories, so my small bias probably works against this volume. If you like Bernet, this may be one of your favorite Hex books.

The first story, Trouble Comes In Threes, is a fairly light tale. The villains don’t seem so bad, there’s no particularly gruesome killing, and there’s even a happy ending. For a second, I thought I’d slipped into the wrong book. It’s kind of nice as a break though, not every story should be dark just to be dark.

Bernet shows his usual talent at drawing expressive figures and enjoyable male caricatures, but also shows his weakness with the women.

Since three of the main characters in this story are gals, it seems the creators cheated a bit by making one Asian, the other dark haired, and the third blond – so if Bernet has trouble drawing a unique looking girl, at least it would be hard for him to get these confused. Still, there are a couple panels where it seemed that he noticed they all had entirely the same face shape, so hastily redrew a line (even if it made the character look different than from how she looks in every other panel.)

I understand the appeal of the round faced cartoon woman (shades of Archie gals or even Betty Boop) but if the only defining characteristics are hair color and racial eye shape, I get a little annoyed. There’s actually a fourth female character who looks exactly like the main brunette, and if they didn’t call her by name and have her in a very different situation, I wouldn’t have even known it was a different woman.

I may be picking on a trait that’s found in any cartoony style – rounded, simplified anatomy (perhaps an apt description of a certain female trait in Bernet’s art – perfect circles.) It’s just weird to me that it’s only applied to the women when there is such a nice array of masculine characters in his work.

It makes sense in one respect – it’s easier for a reader to project his or her ideal woman onto a simplified form. So this woman is more attractive to a wider variety of readers – but it also means she’s more of a plot device than an actual character. The seduction/betrayal plot thread that this story centers on cements this feeling.

Bernet’s work on the second issue, Hell or High Water, is a little more solid all the way through. But as an offshoot of Four Little Pigs, it can’t help but be a little disappointing.

This one is by the numbers – Hex is underestimated, a story is told, he comes out on top, and there’s some morbid but satisfying comeuppance.

Cowardice features one of my favorite Hex artists, Rafa Garres. His work here, as always, is packed with amazing detail and distorted visages. It’s a vision of the West on Psilocybin mushrooms, organic vacillations of  backgrounds from detailed beauty to shifting patterns of implied shape, framing faces of intense beauty and horrifying exaggeration of expression – seeming to melt off the page with despair or exploding from within with violent thoughts.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Garres’ work on the issue, his coloring choices here were just a tad dull for my tastes. I understand the intention, but I think just a little more contrast and extension of the palette would have served the art well.

Escaped prisoners wreak violence on a town under the recent imposition of prohibitionists. The two plot threads wind their way around a mostly impassive Hex (who honestly seems more interested in his game of shot glass checkers with the town drunk) and culminates with the testing of a field promoted sheriff. The story isn’t bad, but the art carried this tale.

The next story stretches over two issues, and is a bit more of the grindhouse style horror this title dips into from time to time. Called Sawbones, it’s illustrated in a realistic style by David Michael Beck, who renders dark dripping interiors and a masterfully mustached villain.

The story itself contains some great moments (particularly a feverish Hex’s nightmares) and a welcome appearance by Tallulah Black, but also seemed a bit long.

The introduction of a “legendary” killer doesn’t seem to work convincingly and I never believed that he really was a match for our hero, so the extended conflict was forced.

A favorite moment in the telling of the legend was when the illustration obviously portrayed a different person than we later confront – showing the developing nature of the story.

There’s no real reason to believe that a character’s fame is all from his actions, and surely Hex has his own legend inflated from time to time.

While it moved a little slow for me, I could see this story being a favorite for horror fans.

The book closes out with another illustrated by Bernet, Shooting The Sun. The meat of this story is in flashbacks to Hex’s childhood.

I was pleased to see that Hex’s mother looks a bit different (and older) than the other brunette hussies Burnet draws (well, at least in most panels.)

Hex’s father, Woodson, is the real star of this issue. Burnet draws him soft and almost peaceful as he drunkenly slumbers, which makes his rage and displeasure all the more convincing.

Still, the end point of this issue is that Hex has had a tough life and so is a tough bastard.

For some reason, I don’t find that as satisfying as a story about someone who had good in his life, went through tragedy, and then becomes mercilessness and terrible as a way of coping.

I suppose that these stories are a way of keeping “a Jonah Hex style” action to his early life, but I wonder if it would be more moving to see soft moments contrasted with his later career.

Maybe there is room for that as well – I’ll be looking forward to later volumes to see if it’s touched upon.

Verdict:
3 of 5. Mostly satisfying on an individual basis, but not as fulfilling as a collection as some of the other Hex books. A couple of these stories suffer from being more of the same: good action and art, but not adding much new to the equation.

Essential Continuity:
If you are looking to get the whole Hex story, moments with his mother and Tallulah Black may make this volume an essential part of your collection.

Read first:
Read Showcase Presents Jonah Hex and/or Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise.

The contemporary series has been collected in Jonah Hex: Face Full of ViolenceJonah Hex: Guns of VengeanceJonah Hex: Origins, Jonah Hex: Only The Good Die Young, Jonah Hex: Luck Runs Out, and Jonah Hex: Bullets Don’t Lie.

Read next:
Following along with the DC Comics Reading Order, the DC Westerns and Jonah Hex‘s own list, the next book will be Jonah Hex: The Six Gun War.

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